Let’s Count Just How Many Records Video Game Sales Set in April 2020

April 2020 will go down forever as a tragic, horrifying month globally for many people enduring the coronavirus outbreak. My condolences to all those impacted, I wish you all the best during these trying times.

One silver lining at least is that video games are able to provide at least some relief from the monotony of social distancing and lock-down orders. And if sales are any indication, tons of people are most certainly getting their money’s worth.

Last month was a monumental one for video game industry sales, both domestically in the States and globally across digital marketplaces. It literally might have a record-breaking amount of records broken.

Just today both U.S. industry tracking firm The NPD Group and global digital data provider SuperData reported their respective figures for April, in what’s one of the single most newsworthy days in the history of gaming sales nerdom.

Rather than a more comprehensive deep dive into the myriad of stats, we’re going to do a rapid-fire recap of all the ridiculous statistics revealed today alongside lists of top-selling games both in the U.S. and globally by digital revenue. Then, I’ll get through a brief bit of commentary before we say goodbye.

Ready? Time to hit record.

Last month was a monumental one for video game industry sales, both domestically in the States and globally across digital marketplaces. It literally might have a record-breaking amount of records broken.

United States Games Industry Sales (April 5th to May 2nd):

Overall games industry spending increased a crazy 73% since this time last year, generating $1.5 billion. This is a record high for an April month, eclipsing that of April 2008’s $1.2 billion.

Monthly game software sales jumped 55% since April 2019, reaching the highest level ever for an April at $662 million. This beats out the previous record-holder again from April 2008, which totaled $642 million.

Within software, the most notable record is for Final Fantasy 7 Remake which led the monthly rankings chart and set a new franchise high for launch month dollar and unit sales, eclipsing that of Final Fantasy XV from 2016. Square Enix’s latest JRPG re-imagining is immediately the 3rd top seller of 2020 so far plus the best-selling PlayStation 4 title on the year.

It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t mention Nintendo’s flagship hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons, even if the only record it set is short-term. The cute simulation and lifestyle game was ranked #2 on both the April and 2020 to date software charts. Its mini-accomplishment is that it’s the top-seller on Nintendo Switch as a platform over the past 12 months.

In terms of commercial successes we talk about every month, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the 2nd top-seller of April and is still the highest ranked game of both the last 12 months and 2020 itself. During its 7th month run since release, it’s the 4th fastest-selling game ever tracked by NPD Group. That fits my description of an “almost” record, so I’ll allow it.

Moving like Jagger to a game that’s the opposite of talked about each month, Just Dance 2020 is the quickest selling game in Ubisoft’s long-running franchise since Just Dance 2014. It improved its ranking on the monthly software chart, now at #11 in April after boogying to the 17th spot in March.

Quickly flipping to the hardware category, overall dollar spend is so close to being a record that it gets like half a point. Console sales reached $420 million during April 2020, up a whopping 163% versus this time last year. April 2008 refused to be dethroned this time, as it maintains the best April month ever when it generated $427 million.

Within the Hardware segment, Nintendo Switch held the #1 spot for the 17th straight month. Here comes the real doozy: During 2020 so far, its sales are the highest of any single platform in the history of domestic tracking for the first 4 months of a year outpacing even the Wii over a decade ago in April 2009. Incredible, especially in a time with supply concerns.

Not only that! Dollar sales of the “Big 3” consoles in the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One all increased more than 160% year-on-year with Xbox One generating the best growth although NPD Group did not reveal an exact figure. From a unit sales standpoint, each of these hit record April amounts according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter:

Switch: 808,000

PlayStation 4: 411,000

Xbox One: 329,000

Last category here is accessories and game pads, which generated $384 million in monthly sales for an increase of 49% since April 2019. Record alert! Consumer spend on game pads reached a high for an April month, clearing almost twice as much as last year’s amount. PlayStation 4’s Dual Shock 4 black controller topped April’s list, while Nintendo’s Switch Pro Controller is still the best for 2020.

Want another record? I’ve.. heard we got one for ya. Spending on headsets and headphones achieved the best April month in history, beating out that of April 2018. Last month also boasted record results for Steering Wheels and Game Cards. Note that we didn’t hear exact figures for any of these sub-categories, only that they had their best April months of all time.

I feel like we all need a breather after so many records. Let’s look at the full domestic software charts for both last month and year-to-date before going global.

Top-Selling Games of April 2020, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered
  8. MLB: The Show 20
  9. Madden NFL 20
  10. Red Dead Redemption 2
  11. Just Dance 2020
  12. FIFA 20
  13. Mortal Kombat 11
  14. Borderlands 3
  15. Predator: Hunting Grounds
  16. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*
  17. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  18. Persona 5: Royal
  19. Need for Speed: Heat
  20. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Top-Selling Games of 2020 So Far, U.S. (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  6. MLB: The Show 20
  7. Grand Theft Auto V
  8. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  9. Madden NFL 20
  10. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe*

Gaming allows individuals to escape into new, exciting worlds where they don’t have to worry about a pandemic. Or they can at least virtually fight back against one.

Worldwide Digital Games Industry Sales (April 2020)

Expanding to the global games market, let’s check out digital sales estimates from SuperData via its usual monthly report. In general, this only includes digital downloads and additional revenue through in-game transactions thus excludes physical copies sold.

And again to confirm, these are internal estimates as opposed to say publisher data.

Spending on digital games around the globe surpassed a monumental $10.5 billion during April 2020 which is the highest month ever and growth of 17% since last year. Ding ding. Another record!

Driving this figure was a jump in console sales of 42%, mobile growth of 14% then PC sales moving 12% higher. Of course this is temporarily bolstered by lock-down orders, as gaming has become a popular way to defeat the inevitable boredom that sets in from staying home. The question becomes how long can it last?

Diving into more individual game results, usual suspect Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold 3.6 million digital copies in April which is down slightly from the record 5 million in its launch month of March. Still, it was the top-selling console game on the worldwide chart. Here’s this month’s record: After only two months on market, it’s already the top-selling Nintendo Switch title as measured by both digital unit sales estimates and dollar revenue from downloads.

The aforementioned Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which was the best-seller in the States during April, achieved the 2nd spot on the global digital rankings. Since we’re certainly counting, its total of 2.2 million digital downloads set multiple records for a launch month. This is the best digital result within the franchise ever, plus it’s the fastest-selling PlayStation exclusive to date beating out Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018 by a slim margin. A win is a win!

While not a record, Resident Evil 3 Remake achieved another notable result during April 2020. Capcom’s latest remake in the long-running horror franchise eclipsed 1.3 million digital units sold during this its launch month, slightly below the 1.4 million of its predecessor in 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake.

Back to the records. Last month, League of Legends hit its best player count of all time and spending in Grand Theft Auto V on in-game content reached its highest level ever. Ongoing games continue in their appeal, as people gather virtually to either compete or work together collaboratively.

This leads into the full charts from SuperData estimates for global digital sales. Take it away, fancy image.

Top-Grossing Console Games of April 2020, Worldwide, Digital Sales:

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  2. Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  3. FIFA 20
  4. Grand Theft Auto V
  5. NBA 2K20
  6. DOOM Eternal
  7. Fortnite
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered
  9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  10. Resident Evil 3 Remake

Alright. I believe I’m fully on record proving how April was a record-breaking month. Counting them up, there are more than a dozen here which is likely some sort all-time high.

My reactions? No one could have predicted this, not even as recently as a couple months ago. This is absolutely unprecedented, even if for the wrong reasons during a tragic time for our world history.

Gaming as much as any other medium is benefiting because of the feeling of connection caused by sharing on social media or gearing up with others online. There’s local play, which helps pass the time with the very few loved ones with which we can spend time. Gaming allows individuals to escape into new, exciting worlds where they don’t have to worry about a pandemic. Or they can at least virtually fight back against one.

It’s not much in the way of analysis to say that April was one of if not the most noteworthy sales months this generation. What’s difficult to say is how long it will last with all the uncertainty surrounding the scary longevity of coronavirus and the potential for a vaccine. I’m thankful that people have games to entertain, especially those on the front lines working hard for our safety, and that for now many have enough disposable income to spend.

As the summer starts here and new PlayStation 4 games like The Last of Us Part 2 and Ghost of Tsushima release then Nintendo launches Paper Mario: The Origami King, where will the broader economy be, what level of unemployment will we see and how will sales look going into the marketing cycle for next generation consoles?

Let’s celebrate April for what it was, while acknowledging we have a long way to go outside of games.

As always, please check out NPD Group Analyst Mat Piscatella’s thread for many more details plus friend of the site Jeff Grubb’s recap on Venture Beat on the domestic report, then SuperData’s site for the global update. Thanks for reading, be healthy!

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Sources: Media Play News, NPD Group, Square Enix, SuperData Estimates, Venture Beat.

-Dom

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Rings in a Rallying of March U.S. Sales Results

In the pantheon of Nintendo’s most popular games, people normally think of franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Smash Bros.

In 2020, it’s time to officially add Animal Crossing to the list.

The latest entry in the long-running, family-friendly simulation series entitled Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a massive commercial seller since its release last month. It’s the main driver behind a stellar March sales result domestically, undoubtedly boosting both software and hardware gains.

Attribute performance to pent up demand resulting from the last mainline entry being way back in 2012, the transition from its handheld hardware to the big screen on Nintendo Switch plus the tragically convenient timing of launching alongside enormous appetite for design, creation and social collaboration during a global lock down.

These myriad of factors caused New Horizons to achieve the top spot on the March 2020 software rankings in the United States, according to a new report from NPD Group. Easily the best launch ever for the series. It’s immediately the second best-selling game of 2020, leap-frogging everything except Call of Duty: Modern Warfare as Activision’s premier military shooter moves up to number one.

In what’s a staggering statistic, New Horizons generated the 3rd highest launch month sales of any game ever published by Nintendo in the history of domestic tracking behind only Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in late 2018 and 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. That means it’s above any Mario or Zelda, as storied as they might be.

Keeping with the theme of ridiculous numbers, launch month unit and dollar sales have already exceeded the individual *lifetime* sales of every other entry in the internally-developed Nintendo Animal Crossing franchise. Yes. It took less than a month on market to beat the overall results of those games.

What’s most impressive is NPD Group tracking doesn’t even include digital downloads for Nintendo games. This is strictly based on physical, boxed sales. Considering the stay at home orders across the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if digital contributed upwards of 40% or more overall. (Purely speculation. No quotes.)

A rising tide does lift all boats in this case. And that boat is more than likely used to get to one’s island in Animal Crossing, if sales are any indication.

Changing it up (heh) to another major software release of March, PlayStation 4 exclusive baseball series MLB The Show continues its quiet consistency on the charts. This year’s entry MLB The Show 20 hit third on the March software rankings, sliding in just below Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (which keeps on with its momentum, achieving an all-time high for a March month, might I add).

The Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego studio creation is the top seller on the PlayStation 4 individual platform chart for March, plus already a Top 5 performer for the year to date overall software list. This year’s game yet again set another launch month franchise record, same as last year’s MLB The Show 19. It’s the definition of consistency, hitting the charts strong every single time.

(Who caught all the puns?)

Plenty of other new games dotted the March overall software chart. Capcom’s zombie remake Resident Evil 3 achieved the fourth spot and reached #7 on the list of 2020 best-sellers to date. DOOM Eternal from Bethesda Softworks went on a tear to #6. Worth noting that Bethesda is another publisher that doesn’t include digital sales, thus performance for DOOM Eternal accounting for downloads could be even better.

Two recent Japanese games charted in the States during March: Persona 5: Royal from Atlus/Sega lands an impressive start at #7 while Koei Tecmo’s Nioh 2 barely misses the top 10, debuting at the 11th spot.

Finally, Nintendo’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX achieved a Top 15 start while Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered rounds out the Top 20 even with a surprise, timed limited release solely on PlayStation 4.

Following the above highlights, here are the full overall software rankings for March 2020 then the year to date.

Top-Selling Games of March 2020 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. MLB: The Show 2020
  4. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  5. NBA 2K20
  6. DOOM Eternal*
  7. Persona 5: Royal
  8. Grand Theft Auto V
  9. Borderlands 3
  10. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  11. Nioh 2
  12. Red Dead Redemption 2
  13. FIFA 20
  14. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  15. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX*
  16. Madden NFL 20
  17. Just Dance 2020
  18. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered

Top-Selling Games of 2020 So Far (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons*
  3. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. MLB: The Show 20
  6. Grand Theft Auto V
  7. Resident Evil 3 Remake
  8. Madden NFL 20
  9. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe*
  10. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Last month’s whopping result for Switch came in above this figure, likely upwards of a million or even more units. For a single month in one territory, this is incredible. It reveals how important quality software is to drive hardware sales years after initial launch, something Nintendo has perfected by now.

Let’s put these software starts in context and take a broader look at industry spending in March.

In a busy month, overall domestic consumer spending reached $1.6 billion which is an increase of 35% since this time last year. In fact, it’s the highest result in more than a decade for this particular time frame. The last time a March month generated higher sales was way back in 2008, at $1.8 billion.

Last month, dollar spending on software alone jumped 34% to $739 million in what was the best March month since 2011’s $787 million. Out of the top ten overall titles listed above, all but one of them generated higher sales than those at the same ranks last year.

Hardware spending increased a massive 63% since March 2019. Nintendo Switch was the best performer of course, more than doubling its sales year-over-year. Still, even its major competitors in PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both saw monthly increases above 25% using the same time frame comparison. This shows that it wasn’t just Nintendo’s release slate that provided a bump.

Expanding on Switch console sales, it was the single best month in the history of Nintendo’s hybrid console on the strength of the aforementioned Animal Crossing: New Horizons. That’s right. Last month was better than even its launch three years ago, the prior record holder. And that’s with supply constraints this year!

Let’s quickly review for context. Unit sales for Switch back during its launch month in March 2017 reached approximately 906K. Which means last month’s whopping result for Switch came in above this figure, likely upwards of a million or even more units. For a single month in one territory, this is incredible. It reveals how important quality software is to drive hardware sales years after initial launch, something Nintendo has perfected by now. Just when you think it can’t top itself, it does.

The final category measuring spending is accessories and game pads, up 12% since last year to $397 in March. This is a record high for a March month for both accessories, previously achieved back in 2008, and game pads as well. The top-selling game pad was the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller last month, while PlayStation 4 hit its best ever combined game pad spending during a March month.

A rising tide does lift all boats in this case. And that boat is more than likely used to get to one’s island in Animal Crossing, if sales are any indication.

Before we wrap, it’s not all great news unfortunately.

Broadening the scope tells somewhat of a different story for the first quarter overall. Year-to-date spending as a whole is down 4% since this same time last year, hitting around $3 billion. This covers the same categories of hardware, software and accessories and game pads.

Two of these categories are lower compared to 2019: software and accessories and game pads. Consumer spend on software titles during 2020 so far dipped 8% to $1.4 billion, while accessories and game pads weakened to $905 million, 3% off year-on-year. Which means that even with the new release boost last month, the earlier months in 2020 are dragging.

Even so, Switch and hardware buck the trend for the quarter. Hardware sales rose nearly 10% to $773 million during 2020 so far. Here’s the main factor: When talking unit sales, Nintendo Switch saw the best quarter for *any* platform, regardless of manufacturer, since a decade ago in 2010 when it was achieved by the Nintendo DS. A major Q1 hit will certainly do that.

To summarize, March ends up being an exciting month for video game sales and the industry for those teams releasing new games especially. Partially a byproduct of those major software launches, somewhat due to the coronavirus impacting buying and playing habits. It’s a sad, tragic situation for the world right now. One of the few bright spots is being able to enjoy video games, which means some staggering statistics for a March month here in the States.

I highly recommend sifting through NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella’s thread on Twitter where he provides even more detail, notably on individual platforms. He also posted a follow-up piece at the NPD Blog to give more insight into Animal Crossing in particular.

Another month and quarter in the books. And it was a wild one. How did your predictions go? What’s the biggest surprise? Are you somehow one of the few people like me that isn’t playing New Horizons? Swing by in the comments or Twitter to chat.

Lastly, I hope you and your families, friends and loved ones are safe during this difficult time. Shout out to everyone working at essential jobs and healthcare. You are heroes. Thanks for reading!

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Go Nintendo, Nintendo of America, NPD Group, Sony Corp.

-Dom

Now That We Know Specs, How Much Will PlayStation 5 & Xbox Series X Cost?

The short answer: We still don’t know. Yet that won’t stop us from speculating!

Even though we’re now a bit closer to seeing the full picture, there are still plenty of variables at play. Right now, no one on the outside actually knows.

That said, it’s time to guess.

After Sony’s “Road to PlayStation 5” video reveal of the technical specifications for its upcoming PlayStation 5 hardware, we know a lot more about components and power expectations for it alongside its main competitor in Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. So it’s easier to approximate where they might be at launch, currently scheduled for late this year. Which is great. Because while power is important, I’d argue price drives consumer sentiment more than anything.

For those looking for in-depth breakdowns of specs and numbers for Sony and Microsoft’s hardware, check out Digital Foundry’s work at this link for the PlayStation 5 and this one for the Xbox Series X. The team also compiled a comparison piece across the two consoles, at least based on the information so far.

Then there’s the latest collaboration with Digital Foundry, Austin Evans and Xbox Wire with even more detail into Microsoft’s project, plus Sony’s own PlayStation Blog post summarizing various items on its box. Plenty of places to soak up the technical jargon. It’s impressive coverage, to the point where even someone that follows the business and critical side of games can almost understand.

Here, we’re going to cover mostly the general points and see just what they mean for potential launch pricing. Price drives consumer decisions just as much as power, arguably even more so since it’s an easy comparison point between different products. Don’t worry if some of the tech side goes over your head. You’re not alone.

Based on the reports as you see above, the conclusion is the raw components and feature sets are mostly comparable with some important distinctions. In terms of capabilities, there are common ones. They support high frame rates and 8K resolutions. They’ve got Raytracing (get used to this buzzword for a fancy lighting technique). 3D audio. Custom AMD processors. Solid state drives. Some form of backwards compatibility for legacy software.

It’s looking at the divergences that spark discussion of course. Without getting too much into the weeds, I’ve heard it framed as such: The Xbox Series X is more powerful while the PlayStation 5 is notably speedier. The former has the more capable processing power, while the latter has a tailored solution for delivering the highest speed possible.

Which makes sense when we step back. Microsoft’s general philosophy is now about how it has the most powerful console this generation in the Xbox One X, and the focus remains on the upper end targeting tech enthusiasts this time as well. The upcoming Xbox Series X is twice as powerful as the improved version of its predecessor, the Xbox One X. Microsoft’s goal is to have games looking great and running smoothly plus is going to offer the ability to suspend and resume multiple games at once. Which fits with its ecosystem, software compatibility and catalog approach.

The downside to the raw power of the Xbox Series X is that it requires proprietary expandable storage options, which will add to the cost of keeping the console over time when hard drive space inevitably fills up. This certainly lowers its price tag, yet adds to the overall investment across the full generation. There’s also the question of first party software support, which is a primary concern though less relevant in this context.

Flipping over to Sony’s PlayStation 5, its specs are still impressive. While in raw terms its numbers are notably lower than Xbox, its implementation is slightly different in using what’s termed “variable frequency,” more plainly a type of “boost” to allocate its power budget. Sounds to me like a focus more on optimization rather than sheer strength.

This also fits with its design mantra of placing a major focus on speed. Limiting loading times for players, offering studios the tools to minimize downtime and providing better options on the consumer storage side. This is achieved by leveraging a custom system alongside its 825 GB solid state hard drive plus expandable storage that doesn’t require proprietary equipment. Simply, the real treat is its storage speed and flexibility.

Mark Cerny, Sony’s lead system architect and hypnotic public speaker, described the solid state drive as the single most requested component by software developers. Capabilities for the people that make games are just as important as delivering performance output to those that play them. Which is why the PlayStation 5 seems tuned for speed.

One disappointment of Sony’s messaging so far is its stance on backwards compatibility. The aforementioned PlayStation Blog post alludes to many of the most popular PlayStation 4 games being playable at launch on the new console generation, then comments that there are roughly 4,000 PS4 games on which they will be working on this feature. Does that mean only select games will be available? Or that those will benefit from the PS5 power? We need more clarification of this increasingly more important feature.

Capabilities for the people that make games are just as important as delivering performance output to those that play them. Which is why the PlayStation 5 seems tuned for speed.

This summary of the broader strategies across the two competing hardware makers brings us to the real debate:

How much will people have to pay to move to next gen later this year?

We’ll start with the PlayStation 5, mainly because we already have some insight into its supply chain and pricing decisions from a Bloomberg piece last month.

For context, PlayStation 4 released at $399 back in 2014 while 2016’s more powerful mid-step PlayStation 4 Pro hit that same price later in the cycle, after discounts applied for the original box.

Rumors suggest that the manufacturing cost for the upcoming PlayStation 5 is currently at $450 per console, which is well above the estimated $381 for the base model of its predecessor. And this is strictly speaking about component cost. It doesn’t include the additional marketing and distribution associated with launching a flagship product.

During a conference call with investors earlier this year, Sony’s Chief Financial Officer Hiroki Totoki said “We must keep PlayStation 5’s bill of materials under our control and we need to make the correct number of units in the initial production.”

That certainly sounds like component cost might be approaching levels that Sony didn’t anticipate. Knowing these factors, could we see the same $399 introductory price for the PlayStation 5 this holiday?

I think there’s an argument to be made that we will, and it’s where I predicted it to be when discussing the topic in late 2019. That was without knowledge of the power capabilities and higher-than-expected component cost. Console manufacturers traditionally have slim margins early in a console life cycle, though $399 would be clearly selling at a loss. Companies aren’t in the business of losing money.

I’m leaning towards upping my forecast to $449, with Sony eating those additional expenses in hopes of making it up in volume and software sales. This puts it roughly at what it costs to make, and it’s only 50 bucks more than where it launched PlayStation 4 nearly seven years ago.

Gaming has been largely free from the reality of inflation so far, what with big budget software costs remaining consistent through the years. Even if publishers are finding ways to generate additional revenue via downloadable content and customization options. With rising costs to build hardware, it’s looking like a higher baseline for console launch cost is approaching.

There’s also a chance that Sony’s console starts at $499, especially if supply chain constraints limit the availability of parts. I don’t think it will be this high due to both sticker shock and competitor decisions, yet we can’t rule out the possibility based on what we know of its specs now. Especially if Sony only has the one model at launch, its usual strategy.

Microsoft’s situation is somewhat different. It’s already revealed plenty about the beefy Xbox Series X. While there aren’t yet rumblings of how much it costs to build, we can deduce that it’s likely going to be more than the PlayStation 4.

Thing is, there’s still the unknown of Microsoft potentially offering a more affordable option simultaneously at launch. Allegedly the team is working in parallel on the Xbox Series X and what’s dubbed Project Lockhart, a slimmed down version with less power and a friendlier price. Similar to what phone manufacturers do. Two products, one targeting the enthusiast and the other suited more for a broader, casual audience.

Even this generation, Microsoft has dabbled with offering a variety of console options. Xbox One hit market in late 2013 at $499, a much higher price point than its competition. Problem was, it wasn’t actually more powerful. It was that way because of bundling Kinect.

We then saw the Xbox One S version in 2016, beginning lower at $299. The most powerful family member in the Xbox One X launched a year later, coming in at $499 to appeal to dedicated players that wanted more than the earlier models could produce.

Shoot, Microsoft has been even more experimental later this generation. The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition hit last year for $249, making it the most cost effective in the family. Even if it had little fanfare and we don’t actually know how well the market reacted.

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, hearkened back to the early days last gen in an interview with Eurogamer by saying “If you remember at the launch of Xbox One, we were $100 more expensive and less powerful. So, I won’t be in that position. There’s no doubt about that. As an industry that’s growing so fast, we do think about price. We do think about performance as well. I’m not going to sacrifice performance for the sake of price.”

Combining this sentiment with now seeing the power potential of Xbox Series X, I’m at a minimum of $499 for launch cost. I just don’t see a way Microsoft can price it lower and not take a serious bath on each unit. $549 is probably a smarter prediction, even $599 contingent upon the existence of the lower-priced Lockhart version of course. I don’t think Microsoft can enter next gen with only one console priced at $599. That’s beyond risky. I think the smart people on the team know that.

There’s ways to make it more enticing even at a higher price than the PlayStation 5. I’ve said bundling Xbox Live and/or Xbox Game Pass would go a long way to incentivizing the undecided audience towards the Xbox ecosystem. Even spreading out the cost with a payment plan, similar to its Xbox All Access program.

Gaming has been largely free from the reality of inflation so far, what with big budget software costs remaining consistent through the years.. With rising costs to build hardware, it’s looking like a higher baseline for console launch cost is approaching.

What makes predicting this generation even more difficult is the increased uncertainty surrounding global economies and the impact of coronavirus. How will it impact component availability and supply chain? Could it even delay the launch to 2021? I’m not calling for that just yet. We have to acknowledge it could happen.

The last question for now is: When will these companies reveal pricing? The Bloomberg piece suggests that Sony is somehow waiting for Microsoft to make the first move. Sony hasn’t even shown the form factor of PlayStation 5 yet. While Microsoft has even let certain media members see Xbox Series X in person and been extremely vocal about sharing details, it’s still quiet on the potential of another model. With the delay of various gaming events globally and the move to a digital format for many presentations, I expect a longer wait than usual for price announcements. Think closer to the summer.

I’m on record with my predictions of $399 for the PlayStation 5 and $499 for the Xbox Series X, while leaving the door open to moving up slightly if component scarcity hits or some other disruption. It’s too early to lock in officially. (Yes, I’m leaving myself an out. Wouldn’t you?)

Anyone confident enough to place bets even when we don’t have all the information and there’s plenty up in the air with current socioeconomic elements? What are your price expectations right now?

Pretty soon, we’ll all have to go on record.

I look forward to hearing here or on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

Note: All pricing discussed above is in US Dollars.

Sources: Bloomberg, Eurogamer, Digital Foundry, Microsoft, PlayStation Blog, Sony, Xbox Wire.

-Dom

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Highlights Quiet January U.S. Games Sales Report

Here we have the first domestic sales report of the new decade from video game industry tracking firm NPD Group, hot off the presses this morning.

As anticipated based on where we are in the console cycle, January saw consumer spending down in the double-digits both overall and within each major category of hardware, software and accessories. Even recent bellwether Nintendo Switch couldn’t escape declines. Still, I’ll shout out a handful of bright spots in terms of individual software results plus the latest figures for a top-end controller from Xbox.

Let’s talk specifics.

January is traditionally a type of recovery month after the holiday sales rush, however in recent years we’ve seen companies like Capcom capitalize with flagship games early in the year. This time the slate was even quieter than usual. Which means that Bandai Namco capitalized fully with its latest project Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, the best-selling game of January in the States based on dollar sales.

This is actually the first time in tracking history that a game in the long-running Dragon Ball Z franchise has topped the monthly rankings. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot also experienced the 3rd best launch month in series history. The only two games ahead of it are Dragon Ball FighterZ, during its debut at #2 in the January 2018 chart, and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai around 18 years back.

Publisher Bandai Namco recently shared during a conference call that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot shipped 1.5 million units globally within a week of its January 16 release date. This is slightly below the record-breaking 2 million copies for Dragon Ball FighterZ a couple years back, yet still obviously impressive. Early in the year continues to be an advantageous time to hit market. And this latest report from NPD proves that is domestic share here in the U.S. is quite healthy.

Broadening the scope to overall spending as mapped in the above chart, January’s total dollar sales across the industry hit $678 million. Off 26% compared to the same time frame in 2019. This is partially due to the aforementioned sparse release schedule, compounded by last year boasting the likes of Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 Remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 from Square Enix during this early window. Then of course both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One getting increasingly long-in-the-tooth.

I’d also posit that the major success of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in late 2018 to early 2019 impacted Nintendo Switch’s year-over-year performance comparison, thus contributing to the wider weakening.

Consumer spending on software reached $311 million last month, a figure that’s 31% lower than January 2019. In what was the most pronounced decline of the three individual categories, hardware spend dropped 35% to $129 million. The notable part here is that even Nintendo Switch experiencing a decline in customer spending, when it’s been growing most months amidst its competitors doing the opposite.

Rounding out the segments, accessories and game pads generated $238 million in sales. 11% lower than the same month 2019. It’s the best result in terms of comparisons, albeit still in that double-digit decline territory.

This is actually the first time in tracking history that a game in the long-running Dragon Ball Z franchise has topped the monthly rankings. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot also experienced the 3rd best launch month in series history.

Delving into software, we’ve already touched on the success of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. As a result of this, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare drops to the second spot on the monthly chart. Of course it retains its standing as the best-seller of the last 12 month period due to its immense success and continued momentum during the holiday months.

The next notable in the month ending January is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Electronic Arts, which stays within the Top 5 this time at #4. The sixth best seller of last year has maintained a consistent position domestically since mid-November, and this enthusiasm has translated globally as well. Its publisher said during its latest earnings conference call that the game from Respawn Entertainment hit the upper range of its original guidance. Implying 8 million units shipped. The company even said it now expects 10 million copies by March. Sounds like single-player games aren’t dead just yet.

Familiar titles from Rockstar Games moved up the chart in January too, as 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V returned to a Top 5 ranking and Red Dead Redemption 2 rode to the Top 10. Publisher Take-Two Interactive released updated global unit sales figures for these behemoths last week during its financial report, sharing that Grand Theft Auto V reached 120 million and Red Dead Redemption 2 eclipsed 29 million. The online modes in particular for these traditionally narrative-driven series are bolstering momentum, plus Grand Theft Auto is the type of series that new console buyers purchase out of the gate.

Final item in the software rankings that caught my eye is Ring Fit Adventure. Nintendo’s latest foray into motion-controlled exercise software. The game launched in mid-October, landing at #10 during that monthly report. Ring Fit Adventure has returned to the Top 10, climbing to #9 in its best result since launch. Global unit sales hit 2.17 million in December, which is well above my personal expectations for one of Nintendo’s signature experimental type of titles. The legs on this exercise-meets-role playing game are as impressive as those one could tone up while using it.

Check below for the full rankings during last month and last 12 months.

Top-Selling Games of January 2020 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. NBA 2K20
  7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Ring Fit Adventure
  10. Red Dead Redemption 2
  11. Minecraft#
  12. Pokémon Sword*
  13. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  14. Star Wars: Battlefront 2
  15. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  16. Need for Speed: Heat
  17. FIFA 20
  18. Just Dance 2020
  19. Mortal Kombat 11
  20. Pokémon Shield*

Top-Selling Games of the Last 12 Months (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  7. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Grand Theft Auto V
  10. Mario Kart 8*

Ring Fit Adventure has returned to the Top 10, climbing to #9 in its best result since launch..

The legs on this exercise-meets-role playing game are as impressive as those one could tone up while using it.

Flipping over to hardware numbers during January, Nintendo Switch was yet again the top selling gaming console. It’s held the top spot each month since November 2018, yet this time is especially noteworthy. Not because of its success but the fact it experienced a decline compared to the first month of 2019. The residual sales of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate must have had more of an impact of those from Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield this year. Which makes sense. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the best-selling fighting game of all time in the States, after all.

As we’ve seen recently and will continue to see until late this year, hardware is somewhat lackluster right now. Still, I’ll keep an eye on where Switch goes with Animal Crossing: New Horizons launching in March with a bundle that’s on sale for pre-orders now. A major caveat here is how much the ongoing coronavirus will impact Nintendo’s hardware pipeline, as the company noted production delays locally in Japan due to the outbreak. Will this hit the U.S. and other territories to impact supply in the short term?

In terms of the other platform holders in Sony and Microsoft, both have upcoming launches this year so it’s natural to see slowing sales at this stage. Still, NPD Analyst Mat Piscatella helped put overall sales to date in perspective for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with the following quote:

“After 75 months in market, the combined installed base of PS4 and Xbox One in the US market is 6% higher than that of the PS3 and Xbox 360 and 16% above PS2 and Xbox. Premium console gaming remains strong.”

Which means we must always keep everything in context, think broader rather than focusing on independent data points, despite how temporarily gloomy these numbers feel at a surface level.

The last of the three broader categories is accessories and game pads, which saw less pronounced declines than its software and hardware counterparts. The story here is the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller as it’s held the top spot every month since it hit market in early November 2019. Even more newsworthy is it’s now the fifth fastest-selling accessory within this segment in the history of tracking, as measured by the first three months on sale. The high-end game pad option is proving to be popular despite its lofty price tag.

For those wondering, the two fastest-selling accessories ever within their first three months are Kinect bundles for Xbox 360, the third on this list is the standard DualShock 4 black model for Sony’s PlayStation 4 then the fourth quickest is the Wii Remote bundle. (Who am I kidding? I know you were all wondering!)

This brings us to the end of the latest U.S. monthly report, a somewhat pedestrian one at that. Though not unexpected. I was pleasantly surprised by Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot and continue to respect the over-performance of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Ring Fit Adventure and the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller in particular. Nintendo Switch saw a tough comparison to last year, which warrants monitoring especially given its full software pipeline for the first half of 2020 is still unclear.

We’ll regroup again next time. Definitely check out the thread from friend of the site Mat for additional details right from the source. Thanks for reading!

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco, CNBC, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, NPD Group, Take-Two Interactive.

-Dom

New U.S. Video Game Sales Report Reveals the Best Sellers of 2019 & the Decade

It’s the last sales report of the decade!

Last night, industry tracking firm NPD Group shared a number of figures on the U.S. games market for December, 2019 as a whole plus the entire decade beginning way back in 2010. Get ready for lots of juicy stats!

Not wasting anytime, let’s start with December and expand to broader time frames after that.

During a period that includes the usual holiday push, domestic consumer spending in December totaled $3 billion which is down around 15% since last year’s figure. Softness occurred in all major categories, as gains for Nintendo Switch couldn’t offset other declines.

Software spending in December landed at $1.1 billion, 13% lower than last year’s corresponding month. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was again the month’s top selling title. Separately, the Hardware segment dipped 17% to $973 million as Nintendo Switch continues its streak as the month’s best-selling platform. The final category of Accessories & Game Cards saw consumers spend $869 million during the month, which is down 14% year-over-year. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 marked its second straight month leading this category.

We can attribute continued weakness here to tough comparables in late 2018 which featured the popularity of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel’s Spider-Man, plus the sustained strength of Fortnite which really bolstered accessory sales last year in particular. We know this later console cycle decline is expected, though December 2019 is more pronounced than it would be due to record-setting software releases last year.

The chart below courtesy of NPD Group shows monthly comparisons within each segment during Decembers of the past five years.

Here’s the list of the top selling games for the month of December.

Top-Selling Games of December 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. NBA 2K20
  5. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  6. Pokémon Sword*
  7. Mario Kart 8*
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Pokémon Shield*
  10. Minecraft#
  11. Grand Theft Auto V
  12. Red Dead Redemption 2
  13. FIFA 20
  14. Just Dance 2020
  15. Need for Speed: Heat
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening*
  18. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  19. Super Mario Party*
  20. Ring Fit Adventure

Before moving into 2019, I’d like to shout out a couple individual team accomplishments.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November and held the second spot in the chart for a second month in a row during December, plus jumped up the annual ranks to 6th overall as we’ll see in a bit. With only a couple months of tracking, the third-person action game is now officially the best-selling of all time from developer Respawn Entertainment, known mostly for creating the Titanfall series. The team had a heck of a year between this and free-to-play hit Apex Legends.

Switching to sports, PlayStation 4 exclusive MLB The Show 19 is now the top-selling baseball game ever in the States since tracking began in the mid-90s. Based on dollar sales since its release in March 2019, it passed up MVP Baseball 2004 to take the top spot within this specific segment. Considering all the titles released over the years plus it being a platform exclusive really shows how much of a home run Sony’s San Diego Studio scored in 2019.

Speaking of 2019, let’s expand our discussion to chat on full year figures. Graphic above maps out the last few years as a reference.

Overall games industry spending in 2019 reached $14.6 billion, which is off 13% compared to 2018. Within this total, annual spending on Software declined 9% to $6.6 billion. Nintendo Switch console games experienced growth, the only platform to do so. Hardware sales in 2019 dropped 22% to $3.9 billion, while Accessories & Game Cards category dipped 7% to $4.1 billion. On the year, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller led all accessory sales.

Switch itself was of course the major story of the year on the console side, as it led each monthly chart during the year and was the top-selling platform of 2019. Its new Lite model bolstered demand after its release in September such that the family as a whole saw annual gains compared to 2018. At last count, Nintendo announced Switch sales in the Americas passed 15 million units, which is just over a third of the latest global figure. Titles like mainline Pokémon and the surprising Luigi’s Mansion 3 plus ongoing support for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate contribute to its continued popularity as Nintendo takes advantage of a brief lull in the life cycle of other platform manufacturers.

In terms of individual software, it’s no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was the year’s leading seller after dominating the monthly chart since its release back in October when it shot to the top of the year-to-date list. This marks the 11th straight year that a game in the franchise has led the annual chart, as seen below by the full rankings.

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  8. Kingdom Hearts 3
  9. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  10. Mario Kart 8*
  11. Grand Theft Auto V
  12. Red Dead Redemption 2
  13. Minecraft#
  14. FIFA 20
  15. Anthem
  16. Pokémon Sword*
  17. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  18. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  19. Days Gone
  20. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*

Finally, we’re going even bigger. Despite what naysayers would have you believe, 2019 is in fact the end of the decade that began back in 2010. Which means it’s time to recap industry sales and the games with the broadest success.

Adding together each year in aggregate, total consumer spending on the games industry in the U.S. for the decade ending 2019 totaled over $150 billion.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 ended as the top-selling gaming console of the decade domestically, one in which it saw competition from its own PlayStation 3 platform, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Xbox One launches plus Nintendo’s Wii U and Switch. While we don’t have exact unit sales figures locally, its milestone of 106 million sales worldwide cements it as the second best selling home console ever.

Flipping to the software side, Take-Two Interactive’s Grand Theft Auto V ended as the single best selling game of the decade in the States. The latest in the crime drama franchise from Rockstar Games released in 2013 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, topping the annual chart during its release year.

After its Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release in 2014, the open world game went on to Top 3 results the next two years and Top 11 finishes in every single year since. Boosted now by its ongoing online mode, it’s truly the biggest console game of the generation. It became one of only a handful of titles to pass 100 million unit sales globally back in 2018 as shared on an earnings call. As it stands currently, Grand Theft Auto V boasts an impressive 115 million copies shipped and I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure increases by millions when we hear another update from Take-Two early next month.

Unsurprisingly, Call of Duty earned the top spot as the best-selling gaming franchise of last decade. Like, to the point where there’s just as many games within the series on the full decade list as those outside of the series as we’ll see in a moment. The appetite of the American casual audience for multiplayer, competitive shooters is persisting. There’s no.. fatigue with military shooters just yet.

Below are the full rankings for the span from 2010 to present day along with each game’s release year for reference. Fair warning that it might be a bit redundant.

Top-Selling Games of the Decade, 2010 – 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
  3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012)
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
  5. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (2015)
  6. Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
  8. Call of Duty: World War 2 (2017)
  9. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
  10. Minecraft (2011)
  11. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
  12. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  13. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
  14. Mario Kart 8 (2014)
  15. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
  16. Battlefield 1 (2016)
  17. Battlefield 4 (2013)
  18. Destiny (2014)
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
  20. Star Wars Battlefront (2015)

Whew. Enough stats for ya?

2019 wasn’t necessarily a banner year for blockbuster game releases or massive sales overall, though it had plenty of quality releases that won’t ever top the charts. Expanding to the decade, it’s somewhat repetitive and predictable to see so many military shooters and almost disheartening to see a lack of new properties other than the likes of Minecraft and Destiny.

Moving into 2020 and beyond, my hope is that we see more diversity at the upper end when we regroup in ten years (whoa!) though I’m not overly confident this will be the case as publishers move towards the model of even more sequels, ongoing games and projects within established brands.

Only time will tell!

For now, check out my buddy Mat Piscatella’s post on Twitter which has deets on individual platform results and more. Or the NPD Games page for additional insights. Next month will bring the first rankings of the new decade, and while it will be quiet on the new release front, we should still have a lot of fun! Thanks for visiting.

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Sources: Activision Blizzard, Nintendo, NPD Group, Sony Corp, Take-Two Interactive.

-Dom

Star Wars & Pokémon Shine in the States During November Pre-Holiday Sales Rush

Here we are, almost at the end of 2019!

November is a gloriously busy season for new game releases, which naturally means heightened competition on the monthly sales charts. While the top spot is again the latest Call of Duty title, two new releases in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Pokémon Sword & Shield form two of the major storylines ahead of the holiday sales rush. The latter of which even set a new franchise record for launch month performance. Time to catch you up on the stats.

Industry tracking firm The NPD Group shared its November monthly sales report last night, revealing an obvious winner in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare yet again topping the software list for a second month in a row. The first-person military shooter from publisher Activision Blizzard is a perennial performer, here maintaining its status as the top-selling video game of 2019 to date. It’s also now the best performing game in the trailing 12 month period, measured by dollar sales as a whole through last November.

The real stories begin when looking further down the software chart.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order accomplished the second spot on the monthly chart after its release in mid-November. The latest from publisher Electronic Arts is quite notable for a number of reasons. First, it’s the second best launch ever for a Star Wars game as measured by dollar sales behind only Star Wars Battlefront in 2015. It enters the 2019 year-to-date rankings immediately, at the #9 spot.

It’s also the best debut ever for development studio Respawn Entertainment, which industry veterans Vince Zampella and Jason West started as an independent studio in 2010. EA purchased the team most known for the Titanfall franchise of mech action shooters outright in 2017. As an in-house studio, Respawn has now produced two of 2019’s best titles: Battle royale game Apex Legends and the aforementioned Star Wars iteration. Which is a fantastic third person action game where the player controls a Jedi. Congratulations to the entire team now on the commercial success.

Moving to Nintendo, you’ll notice later a little franchise called Pokémon dominates the chart in last month’s rankings as it holds the remaining three spots within the Top 5. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are Nintendo’s flagship 2019 titles, and their performance in November backs this up. If aggregated with the Double Pack version, these Pokémon games would actually eclipse Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to be the second best seller of the month.

When considered all together, Sword and Shield represent the best launch month ever in the franchise. Beating out the original record holders in handheld games Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon back in 2016. Knowing how successful the franchise has been over the years really puts this in perspective. Recently, the Pokémon brand was named the highest-grossing entertainment property ever with nearly $95 billion in revenue since inception in 1996. To say Sword and Shield saw the best start ever domestically is a serious statistic.

The final new release within the Top 10 is PlayStation 4 timed exclusive Death Stranding. The divisive game from Hideo Kojima’s new Kojima Productions studio.. hm, delivered a good enough start to reach #7 in November. Mat Piscatella of The NPD Group provided additional context, noting that the game “did well in November” and falls within the ten best launches in history for a Sony-published title. I thought the high production value third-person action game had more potential on the upside based on Kojima’s pedigree alone. Its competition provided too much for it to reach a Top 5 rank.

In terms of older games last month, Nintendo’s character fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hit a major milestone. It’s now the very best seller of all time domestically within the fighting game genre, surpassing one of its predecessors in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008) on Wii. That’s right. The latest Smash Bros. iteration became the best-selling fighting game here across tracking history within a year on market. A truly staggering result, plus a testament to the director Masahiro Sakurai and team’s unending work ethic to support it with exciting updates.

Now that we’ve covered some impressive numbers for individual games, let’s look at the full list of best sellers of November and 2019 so far.

Top-Selling Games of November 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order^
  3. Pokémon Sword*
  4. Pokémon Sword & Shield Double Pack*
  5. Pokémon Shield*
  6. Madden NFL 20
  7. Death Stranding
  8. NBA 2K20
  9. Need for Speed: Heat
  10. Luigi’s Mansion 3*
  11. FIFA 20
  12. Borderlands 3
  13. The Outer Worlds
  14. Just Dance 2020
  15. Mario Kart 8*
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  18. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint
  19. Grand Theft Auto V
  20. Mortal Kombat 11

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  2. NBA 2K20
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Borderlands 3
  5. Mortal Kombat 11
  6. Kingdom Hearts 3
  7. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
  8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order^
  10. Anthem

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

That’s right. The latest Smash Bros. iteration became the best-selling fighting game here across tracking history within a year on market. A truly staggering result, plus a testament to the director Masahiro Sakurai and team’s unending work ethic to support it with exciting updates.

Strong software launches for major titles is certainly the highlight of an otherwise mixed month when talking overall industry sales, namely driven by hardware softening for everything but Nintendo Switch.

As displayed in the above chart, total consumer spending in November hit $2.3 billion. This figure is down 19% compared to this same month last year. Driven mostly by lackluster hardware results, as we’ll see in a bit. When taking the year in aggregate, total industry spend across all major categories is $11.6 billion. 12% lower than where it was in November 2018.

Monthly software dollar sales dipped 14% in November, down to $926 million. Game sales for 2019 as a whole are 8% lower than this time in 2018, coming in at $5.4 billion. Nintendo Switch software is really the only segment here that showed growth, while game sales on competing consoles slowed. I’d imagine partially due to volume plus discounted pricing.

Flipping to hardware, this is where the declines accelerate. Spending on consoles fell 26% in November to $891 million, while year-to-date it’s down 24% to $2.9 billion. For the latter figure, Nintendo Switch is the only platform that’s up since the same time frame in 2018.

Speaking of, let’s.. Switch to some more positive news. Nintendo’s latest console was again the top-selling hardware of the month in November, which means it’s now officially won every single month since the holiday season last year. Obviously it retains its spot as the best-selling hardware platform of 2019.

Last week, Nintendo issued a press release detailing its late November performance in the Americas. Its Switch hybrid console achieved the best week ever in the U.S. since release in March 2017, moving 830K units the week of Thanksgiving (November 24th to 30th). Its Cyber Monday was also “record-breaking,” however the team didn’t provide any more details there. I’ll note there’s one caveat of course, this now includes sales of its more compact Switch Lite variant.

Within the Americas, Nintendo Switch console sales now total 17.5 million units. Nearly 42% of its overall global sales. The aforementioned Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield surpassed 3 million copies sold in the region, while other notable hits passed their own significant unit sales milestones there: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (8.5 million), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (8 million), Super Mario Odyssey (6.5 million) plus New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (1.5 million).

Going back to The NPD Group’s report, the final category of accessories and game cards is now also experiencing slowing momentum. Sales here equaled $433 million in November, 14% lower than last year. $3.2 billion of accessories sold in 2019 to date, a 5% decline compared to the same months in 2018. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller 2, which launched in early November, achieved the highest result in its launch month of any other accessory though the standard PlayStation DualShock 4 in black is still the top seller this year.

We’ve come to the end of another month, marking the beginning of the highly-coveted holiday sales season and the penultimate of the year (and decade!). On the upside, select software titles are seeing record or near record results. Nintendo is taking full advantage of a lull in competition. Still, it’s clear that we’re in for a slower holiday season on the whole when compared to recent ones. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun!

As always, check out The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella’s detailed thread on Twitter for more insights on this tracking period and check back here for the final monthly report of 2019 next month! Thanks for hanging out.

Sources: NPD Group, Electronic Arts, Nintendo.

-Dom

Madden NFL 20 Remains Victorious as U.S. Video Game Sales Slow in August

Football season has finally kicked off here in the States, and Madden NFL 20 scores yet another victory on the domestic monthly video games sales charts. An impressive streak for the perennial best seller, even if overall software sales hit a slump in August.

This year’s installment in the Madden franchise was the top-selling game last month between August 4th and August 31st, according to industry research firm The NPD Group. Based on this solid momentum, Madden NFL 20 has moved up the standings to become the 3rd best-selling title of 2019 to date.

It’s a recurring theme. This is the seventh year in a row that an Madden game has led August. In fact, the annualized series itself is the number one selling sports franchise of all time in the country. It’s the most consistent in this segment for good reason, reiterating that football is the most popular sport in America.

Publisher Electronic Arts recently shared that this year’s title welcomed the most players ever for a National Football League (NFL) opening weekend. While the figures are definitely padded by a free trial effort, combining this with its two consecutive months atop the monthly sales chart and vaulting to #3 on the year-to-date shows not only how much of a sales giant it is but also how it’s still part of both sports and casual gaming culture.

The best part is Madden serves as the metaphorical first whistle signalling the start of the Fall sales season, which really picks up next month then culminates during the holidays. Speaking of sales, let’s get into the numbers.

In terms of overall spending on the games industry last month, consumers racked up $666 million across hardware, software and accessories/game cards. A figure which is down 18% compared to this time last year. For 2019 to date, industry spend is $7 billion in total. Six percent lower than the comparable period leading up to August 2018.

Each of the three main segments saw declines, though the eye-catching statistic resides within software. Consumer spend on games totaled $257 million, a decline of 22% year-on-year. This is the lowest figure for an August month in 20 years when spend on software totaled $234 million back in 1998. The summer is a notoriously slower time for games, even more pronounced this year due to where we are in the general console cycle.

Here’s the thing. The data is clear, August was way slow. However, when broadening the scope to look at the full year, software spending in the U.S. is actually up since last year. Overall software sales rose slightly to $3.1 billion, boosting up 1% compared to the same time frame during 2018.

Strength in Nintendo Switch output is obviously fueling this growth amidst long-in-the-tooth competitors, though I’d argue legacy multi-platform games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V still appeal to folks capitalizing on console discounts and buying the half-step PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X hardware iterations.

There you have it, I’ve found the silver lining in a somewhat dreary report. Context is important. It’s not just about each month, it’s about how that month impacts the aggregate.

Moving over to hardware, this segment dipped 22% to $167 million. Switch was the only console to see growth since last August. For the year so far, hardware is sitting at $1.6 billion which is a decline of 21%.

In case the trend isn’t obvious, Nintendo Switch yet again earned the top hardware spot as measured by dollar sales and units sold. The same as it’s done since the holiday season in 2018. Because of this, it retains its position as the best-selling console of 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised if this holds through November and beyond. Can discounts on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can do anything to stymie Switch’s run?

Accessories and game pads round out the three main segments, generating $242 million in August and totaling $2.3 billion for 2019 to date. These figures are down 6% and 2%, respectfully.

Here’s the thing. The data is clear, August was way slow. However, when broadening the scope to look at the full year, software spending in the U.S. is actually up since last year. Overall software sales rose slightly to $3.1 billion, boosting up 1% compared to the same time frame during 2018.

On to the rankings!

Let’s see the software list then delve into it. First we’ve got the August monthly game chart, then the year-to-date best sellers. This is based on dollar sales when combining physical and digital for those companies that participate in The NPD Group’s data gathering effort.

Top-Selling Games of August 2019 (Physical & Digital Dollar Sales):

  1. Madden NFL 20^
  2. Minecraft#
  3. Grand Theft Auto V
  4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses*
  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  6. Super Mario Maker 2*
  7. Mario Kart 8*
  8. Mortal Kombat 11
  9. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege
  10. Astral Chain*
  11. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  12. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  13. Red Dead Redemption 2
  14. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  15. Age of Wonders: Planetfall
  16. Super Mario Party*
  17. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order*
  18. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  19. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan
  20. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Kingdom Hearts 3
  3. Madden NFL 20^
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  5. Anthem^
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  8. Grand Theft Auto V
  9. Red Dead Redemption 2
  10. Days Gone

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

Beyond Madden in the lead, Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V round up the top two spots. Nope, this isn’t 2014. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Both are still selling, especially during a slower month for new releases other than a major sports franchise. My ongoing theory is every new console buy means a copy of at least one of these games, if not both. Especially Grand Theft Auto V. Following these mainstay legacy titles were Fire Emblem: Three Houses at the 4th spot then Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fighting to #5.

In fact, the list is a whole bunch of Nintendo. Half of the top ten is comprised of games published by the Japanese gaming giant exclusively for Switch. This includes the only brand new release squeezing into the Top 10: Astral Chain. The third-person action game developed by PlatinumGames debuted at #10 during August. Considering Nintendo doesn’t share the digital portion of software sales, this is an even more impressive start. Especially knowing the game isn’t part of an established franchise, albeit made by a popular developer.

Quick note on Fire Emblem: Three Houses, this is its second month within the Top 5 overall list as last month it occupied the #2 spot. Its second month sales were the best ever for a game within the Fire Emblem series, and it’s approaching lifetime sales of the franchise top-seller 2012’s Fire Emblem: Awakening. A testament to both Nintendo’s software direction plus the global appeal of the brand now.

Another new title which is much deserving of a shout out is Age of Wonders: Planetfall from developer Triumph Studios and publisher Paradox Interactive. This fifth iteration within the Age of Wonders strategy series released early in the month and landed at #15. Most impressively, it generated the best initial month ever for an Age of Wonders game in dollar sales terms. For a release within a more niche genre usually targeting the PC crowd, grabbing a Top 15 spot is excellent.

On the other hand, a couple other major August releases didn’t fare as well. The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, the first installment in a new horror franchise from Supermassive Games, cracked the Top 20 with its start at #19. Considering the multi-platform title’s late August release window plus its lower price point, this actually isn’t too bad of a result.

Remedy Entertainment’s Control on the other hand didn’t make it into the Top 20. While critically acclaimed, including in a review from your boy, the combination of releasing within days of the month end plus no digital sales here means it’s not part of the top-sellers. That caveat of publisher 505 Games not contributing digital sales is important, so really this ranking isn’t telling the entire story. A full story which, unfortunately, we likely won’t hear without the publisher sharing anything official.

That about wraps it up for this monthly report. Regular visitors will already know, but in case it’s your first time: friend of the site Mat Piscatella is an essential follow on Twitter as an analyst representing the NPD Group. Check out his video for further details on last month’s data, including individual platform rankings and all that fun stuff.

Till next time. Stay safe.

Source: The NPD Group, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Paradox Entertainment, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

-Dom

New U.S. Video Game Sales Last Month Were Slowest May in Over Two Decades

Back again with the sales talk! I’ll do my best to make this piece as riveting as possible, though as expected May was a bit of a snoozer when it comes to the market here in the States. It’s a mid-year month in the year before a new console generation. So it’s more like game stales, amirite.

Okay. Moving on.

The NPD Group produced its latest monthly report this past Tuesday, with the standout statistic being that sales of new video game releases were at their lowest level for a May month since 1998. Mainly because there just weren’t a lot of notable major software releases. Which checks out, because it’s probably the quietest month we’ll see all year. What I’m really saying is, not a lot of publishers abide by the “It’s gonna be May” mantra.

In terms of the overall industry, total consumer spending declined 11% to $641 million as sales across all three of its tracked meta segments either declined or remained flat.

Beginning with hardware, the category saw a dip of 20% to $149 million. Nintendo Switch was the main bright spot, as the only console to show year-over-year growth when compared to May 2018. For this year to date, total hardware sales eclipsed $1.1 billion which is 17% lower than this same period last year.

As alluded to above, Nintendo continues its streak of wins. May was the 6th consecutive month in which the Switch hybrid led hardware sales. As measured by both units sold and dollar sales. Switch also remained the highest selling console of the year to date. Reminder that Nintendo announced during its last earnings report that Switch lifetime sales hit 34.74 million globally. Essentially, the company that people counted out during its flubbed Wii U era is now propping up the industry while competitors Microsoft and Sony see their hardware grow long-in-the-tooth.

Talk about the perfect segue.. Switching briefly to peripherals, at least multiplayer games like Fortnite and now Dauntless entice people to keep buying those headsets and controllers. Accessory sales stayed consistent around $230 million, with Sony’s black DualShock 4 controller as the top-selling within this category for May and 2019 so far. Consumer spend on accessories for year to date is now at $1.4 billion, up approximately 3%.

In terms of games, software sales across console, portable and PC platforms dropped 13% in May to $262 million. When talking overall software sales, it’s the lowest May monthly result since 2013. I mentioned the dearth of new game sales already. This is sluggish for even the usual summer drought.

While total software purchasing was soft, I believe there are individual games worth noting before we get to the full charts.

Mortal Kombat 11 is having a.. killer launch season. NetherRealm Studio’s latest fighting game achieved the number one spot on the overall software chart for a second straight month since its launch in late April. It led the monthly Xbox One and PlayStation 4 individual rankings, too.

Not only that, and most importantly, it moved past Kingdom Hearts 3 to become the best-selling game of the year so far. To put MK11’s fantastic momentum in perspective, its 2nd month sales result is almost twice the amount of any other installment in the classic franchise. Part of the reason is how NetherRealm is adapting the series for modern tastes, offering unlockables in the base game then pushing post-launch content. The game’s latest character addition Shang Tsung released mere days ago. I’m anticipating good momentum even as other big releases hit, due to the appeal of new content over time plus establishing itself as a leading platform in the genre.

I’d also like to highlight results for three other titles: Total War: Three Kingdoms, Rage 2 and.. Minecraft. Yup. Mojang’s creation game that released a decade ago, having since attained cultural phenomenon status and sold more units than anything except Tetris, is back in the monthly top ten list. The 9th best-selling overall, to be exact, plus the 7th best-selling game on Xbox One. Honestly, how are there so many people that don’t already own Minecraft?

Sega’s Total War: Three Kingdoms and Bethesda’s Rage 2 were the only new releases achieving top ten status last month, slotting at #3 and #4 respectively. Both of these are impressive accomplishments, considering the past few Total War games didn’t even chart and Rage 2 sales don’t include digital. (Bethesda doesn’t share that portion for its games). In an interesting but ultimately useless tidbit, the original Rage was also the 4th best-selling title in its release month of October 2011. The more you know, ya know.

(Shameless plug: I reviewed Rage 2 here and had a good time with it.)

Finally, PlayStation 4 exclusives like Days Gone and MLB The Show 19 are showing solid legs considering availability on solely one platform. Both games maintain spots in the top ten, plus move up in the year-to-date chart. And the beleaguered multi-platform title Anthem from BioWare is still hanging onto the fourth spot in the 2019 rankings. Both of these are happening in the doldrums of late Spring of course, so keeping an eye over time will tell the full story.

It’s now time to check out the main software rankings for May, which focus on strictly the U.S. market. For individual platform charts and way more information, read this extensive thread from NPD Analyst and, more importantly of course, my buddy Mat Piscatella.

Top-Selling Games of May 2019 (Physical & Digital Sales):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Days Gone
  3. Total War: Three Kingdoms
  4. Rage 2*
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. MLB The Show 19
  9. Minecraft#
  10. NBA 2K19
  11. Mario Kart 8*
  12. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  13. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  14. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  15. Marvel’s Spider-Man
  16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  17. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Siege
  18. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  19. Team Sonic Racing
  20. Yoshi’s Crafted World*

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Kingdom Hearts 3
  3. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  4. Anthem^
  5. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. Days Gone
  9. MLB The Show 19
  10. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

^Digital PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on Consoles Included

I think I did pretty well squeezing as much as I could out of a mostly uneventful time frame. How did your predictions hold up? Surprises? Leave a note here or shoot me a message on Twitter. Hope to see you again next month!

Sources: The NPD Group, Bethesda Softworks, Microsoft, Sega, GamesPress.

-Dom

Mortal Kombat 11 & Nintendo Switch Kombine to Top April’s U.S. Video Game Sales Report

Lots of fighting game fans exclaimed “Get Over Here!” to NetherRealm Studio’s latest installment in the storied franchise, Mortal Kombat 11. The brutal beat-em-down title, published by Warner Bros Interactive and released on April 23rd, was the best-selling game of last month in the States according to The NPD Group’s latest report.

Mortal Kombat is one of the most well-known gaming series ever, partly due to its controversial graphic violence and propensity to upset pearl-clutching government officials. This most recent game’s predecessor Mortal Kombat X (2015) went on to be the biggest commercial success in franchise history, eclipsing more than 11 million units sold per famed co-creator Ed Boon.

While we don’t know global unit sales for Mortal Kombat 11 just yet, we now know that this latest entry is selling well domestically. It not only topped the April monthly chart, it also instantly entered the year-to-date list as the 2nd best-selling of 2019, second to only Square Enix’s Disney mash-up Kingdom Hearts 3.

Interestingly, it was tops on all four of its platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and even the Nintendo Switch. An impressive result all around, and I expect it will continue to chart at least during a slower summer release calendar.

Second place for April went to open world zombie game Days Gone from Sony Bend Studio, a PlayStation 4 exclusive title. I wrote recently that, despite thinking the title itself was mostly mediocre, I prognosticated that it would have broad market appeal and sell quite well. I even thought it might top the list of best-sellers last month.

While I was too bold in my prediction, arriving at #2 is a very good result. Namely since it’s limited to just the one platform. Days Gone also had the 7th best launch month for a Sony-published game in NPD’s tracking history, plus became Bend’s top-selling game ever after being on sale less than a full month.

A quiet success story unfolding as we approach mid-year is the solid momentum of another title only available on PlayStation 4, that being MLB The Show 19 from Sony San Diego. The baseball sim has achieved the #3 spot during the past two months of charts since its release on March 26th. It’s also moved up into the Top 10 of the year so far, hitting exactly #10.

MLB The Show 19 is currently the best-selling sports title of the year to date, and it’s still the fastest launch for a game in the franchise when lining up all the relevant launches. I bet the development team is.. having a ball!

Rounding out the Top 5 respectively are Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, the shared world military RPG that was last month’s best-seller, then Nintendo’s ever-present party fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The latter of which recently eclipsed a crazy 13.81 million units sold globally.

And of course, Rockstar Games continues to live up to its moniker by having not one but two of its works present on April’s list. Grand Theft Auto V being the leading one, coming in at #6 despite releasing all the way back in 2013. It’s a theme we’ve seen in most monthly charts, and I’ve continually stated it will be this way until its successor is out.

Below are April’s main software charts, which focus on strictly the U.S. market:

Top-Selling Games of April 2019 (Includes Physical & Digital Sales):

  1. Mortal Kombat 11
  2. Days Gone
  3. MLB The Show 19
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  6. Grand Theft Auto V
  7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  8. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^
  9. NBA 2K19
  10. Yoshi’s Crafted World*
  11. Red Dead Redemption 2
  12. Mario Kart 8*
  13. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  14. Minecraft#
  15. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*
  16. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
  17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*
  18. Jump Force
  19. Battlefield V*
  20. Borderlands

Top-Selling Games of 2019 (Year to Date):

  1. Kingdom Hearts 3
  2. Mortal Kombat 11
  3. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2^
  4. Anthem^
  5. Resident Evil 2 Remake 2019
  6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  7. Red Dead Redemption 2
  8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice^
  9. Jump Force
  10. MLB The Show 19

^PC Sales Not Included, *Digital Sales Not Included, #Digital Sales on XB1 & PS4 Included

Flipping over to consoles, Nintendo Switch saw its 5th consecutive month atop the hardware chart as measured by both dollar sales and units. It’s still the best-selling console of the year, as well. The last time it was outpaced by Sony’s PlayStation 4 was during the pre-holiday rush of November. Even then, Switch generated more revenue. PS4 just happened to see higher unit sales because of heavy discounting.

Consumer spending on games in the States crept up 1% in April, to $842 million overall. This was driven by PC and console software, up 15% to $427 million, and the Accessories segment as it bumped 5% to $256 million on the strength of Amiibo and DualShock 4 sales. These two segments offset a 29% decline in hardware, which fell to $160 million.

For 2019 so far, consumer spending in the games market totals $4 billion. A figure that’s down 2% when compared to the same time period last year. Out of that, software has contributed almost half with roughly $1.9 billion in dollar sales.

My read overall on April is that the top three sellers in particular are impressive, even though I was wrong about which would be first. Especially Mortal Kombat 11.. fighting its way to the second spot on the year-to-date list. That indicates to me that early demand is strong. I’m not sure it can reach the lofty heights of its predecessor, though I’m confident it will carve up a good chunk of commercial success before we see what NetherRealm does next.

Another story that I think warrants more attention is BioWare’s Anthem, published by Electronic Arts, maintaining the 4th spot of 2019 so far. Granted, it’s way early. Then EA said during its Q4 earnings call recently that the game’s early sales came in below the company’s targets. It’s worth seeing if it maintains this position as the year progresses, with more major releases scheduled for the late part of the summer into the autumn rush.

Hardware sales are going to be uneventful until, honestly, holiday season at the earliest. If not next year, when I’ve been saying that the next generation of consoles will start during the second half.

Additional details on individual platform results can be found at the linked video above, from NPD Analyst and friend of the site, Mat Piscatella.

So. How did your predictions go? Any big surprises? Please share in the comments or let’s catch up on Twitter! Thanks for stopping by, as always.

Sources: The NPD Group, NetherRealm Studios, Sony Bend Studio, Sony San Diego, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Wikipedia.

-Dom

Days Gone Is Mostly Mediocre, Morbidly Mundane And Will Still Sell Better Than Many PS4 Exclusives

Disclaimer: This is not a review, as I have not completed the game yet. It’s a series of impressions and sales predictions. Minor spoilers follow.

I went into Days Gone, the latest in post-apocalyptic PlayStation 4 exclusives, mostly curious. Minimal expectations, hoping to be surprised. I’ve felt this way since Sony revealed it back during 2016, when it was featured prominently during its E3 stage show.

Turns out that the open world biker game did in fact surprise me. Just, not in a good way.

Made by Sony’s Bend Studio out of Bend, Oregon, a team known for the Syphon Filter series and handheld Uncharted titles, Days Gone checks all the boxes for features in a standard “AAA open world” game, though fails to deliver anything extraordinary with any one of them.

The third-person game opens on the semi-ridiculous premise that the protagonist, Deacon Saint John, leaves his wounded wife Sarah to fly away to a government camp while a mysterious outbreak occurs around him, to stay behind with his best bro Boozer. I appreciate the “no man left behind” mentality, though couldn’t help feel both contempt and indifference towards Deacon after seeing him abandon his helpless lover. A main character doesn’t have to be likeable (see: Joel from The Last of Us, Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV), though I should at least give a damn about him.

Fast forward a couple years, the Pacific Northwest setting is overrun by infected (I refuse to call them Freakers and I’m mad that I just did), scumbags, settlers, wildlife and “drifters” like Deacon, who considers himself honorable because of an ambiguous code which I gather is mostly that he doesn’t kill women. Unless he has to, of course.

What follows is a classic example of bloated modern game design, flooding the player with crafting, skills and systems to satisfy the endorphin rush of seeing an experience bar increase or watching numbers go up.

Within the first half hour, I was forced to smash infected children (who Deacon specifically said would mind their own business if I left them alone), because they were in my way to an objective. The game said I could avoid them then put them right in my path, overwhelming me with enemies. In fact, main missions so far have been overly restrictive to the point of “Leaving Area” signals alerting you incessantly if you stray too far.

Movement is rigid, which means Deacon is occasionally difficult to control, especially when enemies are off-screen and the camera can’t quite catch up to controller inputs.

Driving the bike is mostly competent, though the gas mileage is unforgiving early on. Who wants to stop constantly in a video game to fill up their virtual gas tank, when we do that enough as it is in real life?

Thing is, I’d be mostly forgiving of flaws if the actual content was fun. Turns out, there’s not much to it outside of the campaign. See that infected nest? Throw a molotov cocktail into it. See that outpost? Murder everyone. See that government checkpoint? Cut down the speakers, fill the generator with gas and open its doors. Then do it again. And again. Until you find another one, where you can do it all over again.


Then there’s the camp system. One of the early camps is run by a freedom fighting gun nut, whose worst offense is that he feeds obnoxious radio blasts into your ear. Which you can thankfully skip.

It’s the other camp that bothers me. It’s run by effectively a slaver operating a “labor camp.” You’d think Deacon would want to capture this camp and free its prisoners, based on his apparent moral compass, but I don’t think the game allows for that decision. You can, however, gain access to new guns when you help its leader by doing jobs or sending random survivors to work in the digging fields. And from what I can tell, there’s no consequence of choosing to work with one group over another. So morality be damned, in the name of sweet guns and bike upgrades!

I haven’t even mentioned the technical issues I’ve faced or heard from impressions online. From enemies disappearing, characters and the bike getting stuck on geometry or falling through the world, slow loading times and severe audio glitches, it’s not deal-breaking though can be annoying when considering the game’s other flaws. (Fingers crossed for more patches, since the game was already updated multiple times in classic day-one tradition.)

I’d be remiss to mention that there are certain aspects I’m enjoying, or at least aren’t interfering with my progress. It isn’t all negative, I want to make this absolutely clear.

It’s mostly stunning when it comes to visuals and art design. The setting is picturesque, and the attention to detail in parts of the world is exceptional. The artists and animators at Bend did a heck of a job. Tire treads kick up mud with a slogging sound. Light shines through tree branches before glinting off water. A foreboding sky reveals infinite stars as dusk approaches. For a dreary game, it can be remarkably majestic.

The infected horde tech is impressive, showing dozens upon dozens of distinct enemy bodies all at once that flow together like rainwater down a drainpipe. Bike customization is cool, though I wish there were more stimulating visual options. There’s a good variety of weaponry, throwables and traps for your forays into the wilderness, and shooting is competent enough. Crossbow bolts that cause enemies to turn on one another is an especially fun toy.

Survival elements aren’t overly difficult or constrictive, though it involves searching. A lot of searching. And holding down the search button. Which can break up the pacing of the game, especially when running low on materials. This was one of the main critiques of Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s just as bad here.

Excitingly, I finally hit a narrative beat that opened up a level of intrigue. Enough so that I will be playing more to see where it goes and if the game can change my mind at all.

Here’s the thing. I’m fine being an outlier when it comes to my tastes or experiences. This time, I’m far from the only one who feels this way. Consensus on review aggregator OpenCritic is sitting at “Fair,” with less than half of the 90 critics recommending it.

One particular piece that expresses my overall hesitation is authored by Patrick Klepek at Waypoint. He writes:


Days Gone refuses to settle on what it wants to be or what it wants to say. Rather than settling on a direction, it proceeds in all directions, hoping a more-is-better philosophy will prove blinding. This is true of both the clumsy mechanics, which are ever present and impossible to ignore, and its story, following the boring moral compass of biker Deacon St. John, who roams the world in the years after an event turned the whole world to shit, claiming to operate by a “code” but refusing to allow said code to operationally manifest into action.

Marvel’s Spider-Man is currently the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive.

Mine and Patrick’s thoughts aside, where does this leave us in terms of commercial potential?

I’ve joked about it in the past, and said that I started tepid on its sales prospects. The irony is that, despite my impressions and the average critical assessments, I now actually think it will sell relatively well. Better than many games exclusive to the platform, if not becoming one of the three fastest-selling to date.

This distinction currently belongs to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, which sold 3.3 million and 3.1 million units respectively during their first three days on market. These are excellent figures, though I wrote last year that I expected a licensed property like Spidey to perform that way.

Next up, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End moved 2.7 million units in a single week during 2016. Ever so slightly behind that was 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn at 2.6 million copies, though it was across two weeks.

Right about here is where I expect Days Gone to settle at launch. Between 2.5 and 3 million units, within say the next two weeks. Which means it will beat out games like Killzone Shadow Fall (2013), Bloodborne (2015), Detroit: Become Human (2017) and Nioh (2017), which all saw a million units near launch except for Killzone, which hit 2.1 million within a couple months on sale. (Detroit and Nioh are no longer platform exclusive, though were near launch.)

Sony has intensified its marketing push lately, not just in retail but also online and traditional media. Big networks like ESPN have been steadily running promos. Plus if there’s one thing that people like these days, it’s post apocalypses and zombies. Early rumblings are positive in terms of shipments from Sony, according to my bud Benji. And I expect demand especially from casual buyers will be enough to purchase most of those inventories going to retailers.

Similarly, I predict it will be the best-selling game of April in the United States, when NPD Group reports sales results next month.

After this mostly successful launch, how will it sell longer term? I can see it maybe settling right at the bottom of 2019’s Top 10 sellers, though as an exclusive it’s already at a disadvantage compared with multi-platform titles. The more titles hit release dates in this year, the tougher it gets. Lifetime units sales of 7-8 million is feasible, especially as the console’s user base approaches 100 million.

It’s always a question if single-player games can maintain strong momentum over time. At least out of the gate, I think Days Gone is more likely to.. accelerate to success than not.

All this said, should you play it? (I know many of you will, just look at my sales prediction.) Well, depends on what you like. The ultimate problem with Days Gone is that it tries to do so many things, then loses any semblance of focus. Maybe it suffered from feature creep, trying to do much more than originally intended. Or it bolted on too much close to launch. Perhaps a lack of decisive leadership during its earlier stages. What’s clear is there are other games that do these things, and do them very well, that I’d rather play.

Do you like a massive, beautiful world to explore? Play Red Dead Redemption 2.

Want stealth action and engaging character arcs? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Like storming enemy encampments and taking over areas? Pick a Far Cry.

Zombies and crafting with a dynamic night-and-day cycle? Dying Light.

A sprawling world with expertly-written side quests? The Witcher 3.

Ranged combat encounters with unique enemies? Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Cinematic narrative in a post-apocalypse: The Last of Us. (Seriously if you haven’t played it, you should be doing so instead of reading this.)

Technical hiccups, repetitive side content, stiff movement, serviceable shooting, laughable enemy AI plus lots and lots of rifling through cars or houses to find crafting materials? Which are used to get caught in a tailspin of monotonous gameplay loops which serve only to make experience bars fill up, all the while questioning why you should empathize with its characters?

Shoot. Then I’d still probably play something else.

Sources: Sony Interactive Entertainment. Internet Games Database. Bend Studio. Quantic Dream. Insomniac Games. Team Ninja. From Software. Waypoint. Open Critic. Benji-Sales.

-Dom